A nice summary of the pandemic’s implication for business appeared in a recent tweet that I saw: “2020 we were in shock. 2021 we thought we would go back to normal. 2022 we need to rethink the working world” (Anja Hendel, anja_hendel at "Twitter").
There are many business leaders, however, that have yet to recognize this implication. They believe that our working, communicating, and forming communities in novel ways, as we have been doing these past couple of years, is just a blip. They believe that it is something that we simply need to endure until the time comes — probably quite soon — when, finally, we can go back to how things were in the beforetime.
Maybe we can go back to how things used to be. But why should we? I find it hard to find compelling reasons to do so. For a while we may have presumed that we would go back to normal, but by now that ship has surely sailed. We now need, as the tweet intimates, to rethink the way we work.
A few years ago, I was invited to a business event to which the participants were asked to bring their favorite business book. The idea was to create a take-one leave-one library. I brought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This triggered some friendly banter, but I was serious.
Kondo’s simple and effective organizing principle is brilliant for the home: you are supposed to keep only the things that spark joy and discard the rest. Now, FFP2 masks and toothpaste might not spark much joy and will need to be kept anyway. But, in most instances, the joy-or-not test is a good one.
And not just a good one for the home: I think that it can be applied just as well to business. When it comes to people processes and -policies, for example, why not keep just those that do — or restructure those that could — spark joy for all involved? What if performance reviews did not trigger stress but sparked joy instead? What if all meetings were meaningful, valuable, and a great investment of time? Would that not spark joy? Would work not be easier and more effective? Would the company not put itself in a position where it could serve its customers better and make more money?
I believe that a company that organizes its operating model, its policies, processes, etc. around the principle of sparking joy has a good chance, thereby to build a great culture.
One organizing principle in architecture is “form follows function.” The idea is that superfluous elements that have no real architectural function — such as decorative columns that carry no weight but exist for optics only — should be eliminated. The effect is a clean, sleek structure that is very intuitive and easy-to-understand.
Culture is the driving function within any organization. The form, to stay within this metaphor, is the operating model, the policies, the processes, the routines and habits of an organization. They should exist not for their own sake but should follow the function — the culture — of the organization. The effect should be that people not feel bogged down by meetings, reviews, meaningless work, etc. Ideally, every element of work would make sense and the intended contribution to the team’s success would be obvious to everyone.
If 2022 is the year when we seriously rethink the working world, then now, as we’re heading towards spring, is a great moment to get ready for a thorough spring cleaning at work. If you are in a position to organize many meetings, ask yourself if they follow a function or if they have become a form for form’s sake. Do they spark joy? Are people satisfied during and after those meetings? If not: don’t meet; gather the information through other, easier methods. If you are in a position to decide how to fill the snack bar, think about how to redesign and refill it in a way that sparks joy.
At every level, there are things that we can start—and stop—doing to fill working lives with more joy. These things may not be life-changing. But they might do wonders to the bottom line.